Arsenal have emerged as the new dominant force to crack the top four with eight wins from 10 league appearances since mid-December – but next visitors Leicester are suffering somewhat polarized form.
The Gunners host Brendan Rodgers’ side in front of the Sky cameras on Sunday and go into the game as the strongest side in the division since mid-December – picking up the same number of points as the league leaders , Manchester City, but overtaking Pep Guardiola’s side with a goal difference of +16.
Mikel Arteta was under fire after losing the first three games of the campaign, having spent £156.8m on transfers in the summer – but doubts were dispelled as the Spaniard steered his side steadily to the top flight superiors.
The chart below shows Arsenal’s expected average goals as a 10-game rolling average under Arteta and reveals how the team are now carving out more clean chances than ever before – and conceding fewer than ever at the other end of the field.
The Gunners have focused on creating more chances in central areas this season, with passes leading to shots generally coming from shorter rallies. In fact, no other team has created more chances from the middle third.
Advanced metrics also confirm that Arteta’s young squad has shrunk: average passing streaks now cover less distance across the width of the pitch – with noticeable spikes for through balls cutting defensive lines and pressing down. before.
Arsenal’s starting XI have recorded an average age of just 24 years and 277 days this season – a year younger than the next youngest team, Brentford.
In terms of changing styles among players, Alexandre Lacazette stands out. As his returns in front of goal dipped, the Frenchman notched seven assists – while only playmaker Martin Odegaard created more open play chances per 90 minutes.
The adjustments have certainly paid off for Arsenal, picking up 14 points more than at the same stage last season. Meanwhile, next visitors Leicester recorded opposing polar returns with 16 points less.
What’s wrong with Leicester?
Defensive issues appear to be at the root of Leicester’s current crisis, with a significant increase in goals conceded, expected goals conceded, shots faced and shots on target faced.
In particular, Rodgers’ side have come under scrutiny for struggling to defend from set pieces this season. The stats are certainly damning, with a league-leading 14 goals and a league-leading 122 shots from set plays.
However, it’s not all bleak for Leicester: in terms of attacking performance, the Foxes have only recorded marginal declines on all key metrics.
Those minor drops could be attributed to Jamie Vardy’s seven-game absence with a hamstring injury since the start of the year.
The former England striker returned to action in the 2-0 win over Burnley a week ago – assisting James Maddison before scoring his side’s second goal in an 18-minute appearance.
But Vardy will be sidelined again this weekend with a knee injury and will miss the chance to become the all-time leading goalscorer against Arsenal in Premier League history. With 11 goals against his former suitors, only Wayne Rooney (12) has scored more.
However, Foxes fans also have a new star at King Power at Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall. Despite making his senior debut aged 21 and making his Premier League debut aged 22, the midfielder has become a mainstay for Leicester in recent weeks, starting the last 11 league games.
He was Leicester’s most creative player in open play this season, showed impressive ball retention skills, completed more passes in the final third than any team-mate. and covered more ground – with Rodgers branding him as the club’s potential future captain.
Arsenal will look to maintain their top-four tilt and league-leading form on Sunday to bolster the buffer of their pursuing rivals – but Rodgers is under increasing pressure to deliver results and, without Vardy, must solidify their squeaky rear guard and entrusting his creative powers to Youri Tielemans, Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Dewsbury-Hall.